Wednesday, November 29, 2006

a new kind of Christian

Yesterday we had another good time of "devotions". We're in Genesis, and just completed the first 11 chapters in our little study and discussion.

As usual, I brought up things that did not always resonate with everyone else, I believe. Not because I want to be controversial, I hope. In some circles I might be labeled a conservative and even a "fundamentalist". Though in other circles I've already been labeled a liberal, at least in some views.

Leaving that half hour of "devotions" yesterday, I was scratching my head, so to speak, trying to figure out that all too familiar phenomena we and I experience in that time together. I told a good friend, who is part of that group and probably more where I'm at, that there are three words, that in many discussions are three of my favorite: "I don't know."

There are many things that by faith we know, that by faith we accept as true, even though we likely do not understand it all that well. For me the story found in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation is true. But I simply do not see that story in the same way as I used to. Years ago it had to do with propositions and truth from those propositions, more than anything else. Not that all those propositions were bad or untrue, but we didn't see, adequately, the story, and the flow of that story, nor the place of the story, within all of Scripture.

Within that story, I find some theological paradigms people hold break down. And so do many of our explanations. And things that we think we know. These especially break down when Jesus comes.

In Scot McKnight's new book- I think it will become a classic- The Real Mary, we find that Mary knew Scripture, and her faith was strong, as she responded in faith to the Lord's word to her, through the angel Gabriel. But we see along the way, that she really did not understand the meaning of all that she knew. Her journey of faith meant arriving to new understandings of what her son's fulfillment of being the son of David who would rule over all, in God's kingdom- would mean, especially for her day (and today).

A fundamental disposition we need when coming to Scripture is the attitude expressed in the words: "I don't know." This can help us be more teachable. To ponder things more in our hearts. And learn so much more. And so avoid any cut and dried Christianity, that has all the answers.

So I expressed to my friend yesterday, that I think, in the words of Brian McLaren, I have become "a new kind of Christian". One that doesn't want to leave our Christian heritage behind, expressed through the centuries by people, very diverse in their interpretations of Scripture. Yet united in their orthodoxy as part of the Church. Standing united with it, even in the midst of disagreement.

Being a new kind of Christian, means I am agnostic about a good number of things. Do I believe the Bible is true? Yes. Absolutely. But what does that always mean? In Genesis 1-3 this can be particularly difficult. But I don't care if that's mythic in recounting the history of humanity. For me, whatever the genre is, being used there, and however that was understood, even by the first recipients of it (including Moses), I believe it is true, and is from God. And is for our good. To lead us to Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God, come, in him.

Do you struggle with any of this yourself? And how does it play out in your life and thought?


Mark Goodyear said...

Yes, yes, yes. I struggle with this. I taught English for many years--a big part of that was critical theories. Formalism, traditionalism, Pyscho-analytical theory, archetypal interpretation, feminist, queer, reader response, post-colonialism, a whole bunch of scary sounding phrases that represent different ways of approaching texts.

I know the Bible is a special book. I believe it is the inspired Word of God. But logically, I have trouble saying we should read it differently from every other book in existence.

And so many Christians approach the Bible only from the Formalist view. They look for the answer the book provides. The one true interpretation. (Formalism became popular in the early 21st century, so it would make sense that it is still the dominant way of viewing any text.)

But I want to shake people and myself. The reader helps bring every text to life. That's why we can read a book again and get a new experience. The book hasn't changed. The reader has.

What does it mean if we as Christian readers help bring the Bible to life? It's a scary thought that my experience with the Bible will change whenever I do.

If God's truth is dynamic like that--but still perfect--how can I ever hope to understand it?

(Sorry for the long comment.)

Lukas McKnight said...

Good post today, Ted; I pointed a responder on my dad's blog today over to here for your post. I think it's important that we all understand that it's OK to say I don't know and to respect each other when we don't know something (or someone else doesn't).

L.L. Barkat said...

This is where we do well to return to our Jewish roots. I love Judith Kunst's book The Burning Word: a Christian Encounter with Jewish Midrash.

There, we discover the art of reverent play with a text that serves the generations. We find, too, that we serve the text by bringing ourselves to it, as Mark notes.

I like Mark's observation also, about reading the bible like other books. This makes sense to me.

Ted Gossard said...


I believe I essentially agree with every point you're making (though not knowledgeable about formalism).

It is a part of the beauty of Scripture as God's written word to us, that its depths are made evident in different cultures, and with different people, and as you point out, through different periods of our lives. Yes, God's Word is a living thing, since it still comes from God, in a true sense, to humans- as well as having come from God in its writings- (along with being a human book, as well).

And therefore it's easy to see how we really can't master it.

Thanks! (And I don't mind the length of your comment, at all.)

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks much, Lukas.

Yes. I think we know far less than what we think we do, many times, maybe most of the time. Especially as far as really understanding and "getting it" goes.

We certainly don't want to deny what we do confess, (like, "Jesus is Lord."). But realizing we have plenty to learn about the meaning of such confessions of our faith.

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks for your astute comment. Yes, I'm sure we can learn so much from the Jewish tradition, and I think the impact it had on the early church, particularly the apostolic writings- is arguably formative. I speak beyond what I know, having touched that only some.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Good post. Too often we read the Bible assuming that it must be understood in the way we think, when we should be reading Scripture in order to be changed, to be reoriented.

How one reads Genesis is important; what is even more important is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead validates Scripture as God's Word whether Genesis 1-11 is to be understood historically or not.

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks. Yes. I so much agree with what you say is Scripture's intent. And the resurrection is the key.

I do see Genesis 1-11 as historical. But how it conveys history, for me, I'm not sure. But I do think it is important truth. And I'm sure what you say here does not conflict with that. I think you mean whether or not it's a straightforward reading that sees the story as not symbolic. Whatever that story is, in its genre, it is about history and truth. Though more about God's work in the beginning.